Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Apostophe in Parkinson's Disease

Punctuation marks are important symbols. Although often ignored, they mean something. As opposed to words, punctuation marks must obey the rules. As such, an apostrophe is used in English to indicate possession.

I have come to resent the apostrophe in Parkinson's disease. When I was diagnosed, more than four years ago, it was only a minor irritation. But as I began to lose my manual dexterity, now being limited to left-handed typing, the apostrophe's placement at the extreme right side of the keyboard makes it a major annoyance. It is much easier to type the URL of this blog without punctuation. The more I think about it, the more difficulty I have with the significance of the apostrophe in Parkinson’s. In my view, it is misleading punctuation.

Mr. James Parkinson (not a doctor but an apothecary, a pharmacist) first detailed his observations of six people sharing some symptoms of the disease in 1817, but did not discover it. His claim to PD fame is tenuous at best. It feels awkward to explain to people that I have someone’s nondescript named disease.  Unlike Lou Gehrig’s disease (where the apostrophe use is accurate) Parkinson did not have the disease. He did not even extensively study it. He simply noticed six folks with certain physical manifestations in common and wrote an essay about it. He actually named what I and millions of others around the world have, Shaking Palsy. In truth, it is not his disease.

We expect diseases to be given names. Sometimes they are named after people. But one would assume it would be the discoverers that are memorialized. But rarely does such a tenuous association, simple written observations, result in the honorific. It was Jean-Martin Charcot, known as the founder of neurology, who gave Jim Parkinson the recognition of his own eponym. Why? I do not know, but from my perspective he does not deserve it.

Unfortunately, PD belongs to those of us who bear the weight of this degenerative neurological illness. There is no distance between the disease and each of us.  It’s Bob's disease.  Bryn’s disease. Marian’s disease. Tom’s disease. Jon's disease. Vicky’s disease. Eric’s disease. All of them have the disease. The all-important apostrophe belongs to us. Is it not better that we own this disease rather than it having someone else’s name? Maybe we need to take back the disease. Maybe we should keep the acronym PD and rename it the more descriptive "Palsy disease".  I don't really expect any change, so I will continue to resent the apostrophe that indicates Parkinson owns our disease.

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